In November 1918, General G. M. Jackson of the Clay Cross Company made an application to the Ministry of Transport for the construction of a standard gauge railway from the small hamlet of Stretton, just south of Clay Cross, to a junction with Hollow Lane in the village of Ashover. The proposed railway had been engineered by the well-known light railway champion, Colonel H. F. Stephens, with the main purpose of route being to open up some fluorspar workings at Milltown, en route to Ashover. The Light Railway Order was granted in February the following year. By 1921, the Clay Cross Company had again applied for a Light Railway Order – this time for an extension to the previously proposed railway from Stretton directly into the Clay Cross Works. At this time, a decision was made to convert both railways to the narrow gauge of 2ft as this would mean lighter earth works and ultimately lower costs. The Order was passed a year later on condition that the railway provided a passenger service. This was agreed and construction of the Ashover Light Railway began.
Almost all of the equipment provided for the building and running of the railway was acquired second-hand from the War Stores Disposals Board. Four American-built, Baldwin 4-6-0 tank locomotives arrived and were named PEGGY, HUMMY, JOAN, and GUY; the names given to General Jackson’s children. Shortly afterwards, a fifth similar locomotive was purchased and was given the name BRIDGET. As the construction of the line progressed, it was realised that a passenger station at Hollow Lane would be a little tight for space, and therefore in May 1924, another Light Railway Order was applied for. This was for yet another extension, this time going from Hollow Lane to Ashover Butts where there was more room to build a station. The Order went through in August that year.
At the other end of the railway, the main Derby to Chesterfield road had to be crossed. The proposed route started in the Clay Cross Works, swung northwards out of the town, then curved westwards through 180 degree to avoid going through Clay Cross town centre. The problem with this route was the Chesterfield Road, and crossing it required a steel girder bridge spanning 45 feet. The height had to be 16 feet above road level, which required a half-mile long approach embankment to be built. The bridge and embankment were the only major pieces of engineering on the entire route between Clay Cross and Ashover. Shortly after the opening of the railway, the Pirelli Tyre Company at Burton-upon-Trent paid to have a large advertisement painted on the bridge. This arrangement lasted until closure and the bridge became known as ˜The Pirelli Bridge”.
Several stations were provided along the line, with the main terminus and headquarters being Clay Cross & Egstow within the Clay Cross Works. Four further stations named Chesterfield Road, Holmgate, Springfield and Clay Lane were erected within the town boundaries of Clay Cross, with the next station being at Stretton. At this point the line was still continuing southwards, but soon swung westwards again to follow the picturesque course of the River Amber as far as Ashover. Stations along this section were Hurst Lane, Woolley, Dalebank, Milltown, Fallgate, Salter Lane (for Ashover), and Ashover Butts. The station buildings were made of wood and constructed to a basic shelter pattern. Only Clay Cross & Egstow and Ashover Butts had anything more substantial.
Four passenger carriages were provided in time for the official opening which took place on April 6, 1925. Over a hundred guests were invited to share in the celebrations, and enjoy a ride over the new line. Two special trains ran covered with flags and bunting; the first left Clay cross at 10.30am and was driven en-route by the special guests who had helped make the railway possible. At Ashover Butts, the village brass band greeted both trains, following which the invited guests transferred to the Ashover School where the celebrations continued. Public running began the following day and the railway enjoyed a long spell of success. All trains during that summer of 1925 were heavily loaded as people began to explore the countryside which had been so inaccessible before.
At holiday times such as Easter and Whitsun, the Clay Cross Company laid on special outings for its employees. These involved a trip to Ashover where the day was spent picnicking on the banks of the River Amber. The popularity of the line encouraged General Jackson to provide more facilities at Ashover Butts, resulting in the construction of the ˜Where the Rainbow Ends” cafe (currently in storage, awaiting restoration). Holidays remained busy and extra carriages had to be found to cope with demand. Some ALR employees are featured below, including Messrs Allen, Skinner, Robinson, Banner, Howe and Maycock.
However, the railway was built primarily as a freight carrier, with most of this traffic coming from the Clay Cross Company’s own quarries at Ashover, Fallgate and Milltown. The extracted minerals were then used in the Clay Cross Works, or sold off around the country. Coal for the surrounding villages was carried on the railway in the early days, but this died down as the roads improved. In fact, the railway’s success led to cheaper and quicker competition from road transport. By 1928, passenger figures had greatly reduced and by 1930, only three trains ran per day, each of these being made up of a single carriage. By the end of 1936, the total income from passenger trains was a mere £139, and passenger trains on the Ashover Light Railway were withdrawn. Goods traffic continued, although on a much reduced scale.
After the closure of the railway in 1950, the track was soon lifted and the stations demolished or burnt. These are the site of the Ashover (Butts) and Fallgate stations.
On September 9, 1946, General Jackson died aged 77. His son, Humphrey (Hummy), took control of the Clay Cross Company, but could not change the declining fortunes of the railway. The following year, Harold Skinner, who was a long standing driver on the railway, resigned, leaving only Charlie Maycock as sole employee of the Ashover Light Railway. By the end of 1947 the railway had made a loss of £2,000 and the Clay Cross Company made it known that they intended to close the line. Even so, they still purchased a small diesel locomotive to replace the worn out steam engines. This was not enough to save the line though as the track was now in an appalling state and in reality, the Ashover Light Railway was completely worn out.
Further investment would have been impractical and the railway began the process of closure. The last train ran on October 23, 1950 when the Clay Cross Company’s estate agent was conveyed in a wagon to survey the railway’s land which could be sold. The scrap dealers, Marple & Gillott, moved in that same day and commenced the lifting of the track. In September 1951 the Pirelli Bridge over Chesterfield Road was removed, marking the final stage in the dismantling of the railway. However, a short section of railway was retained at Fallgate as fluorspar was still being excavated there. This continued until early 1969 when the wagons and track work were scrapped in favour of road transport. This was the final nail in the coffin of the Ashover Light Railway.